As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wherein Andrew Malcolm Eats His Blog Post

A couple weeks ago, Michelle Obama served food to the homeless at a soup kitchen, and one of the residents in line snapped a photo of her with his cell phone camera. Crotchety former Laura Bush employee Andrew Malcolm spat, "If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?" and was immediately crucified by, I don't know, everyone, for not understanding the concept of a cheap, pre-paid phone.

Apparently he roused someone at the Washington Post city desk, however, who wrote a story confirming that yes, the homeless carry cell phones, and if they want to get out of their predicament, they have to:

Today, it's not unusual for the homeless to whip out Nokia 6085 GoPhones (with optional Bluetooth and USB connectivity), stop at a public computer to check e-mail or urge friends to read their blogs.

It's another sign of a society in transition by way of technology, as businesses shed physical addresses for cyberspace and homeless people can establish an online presence and chase opportunities digitally.

"Having a phone isn't even a privilege anymore -- it's a necessity," said Rommel McBride, 50, who spent about six years on the streets before recently being placed in a city housing program. He has had a mobile phone for a year. "A cellphone is the only way you can call to keep up with your food stamps, your housing application, your job. When you're living in a shelter or sleeping on the streets, it's your last line of communication with the world."

Advocates who work with the District's homeless estimate that 30 percent to 45 percent of the people they help have cellphones. A smaller number have e-mail accounts, and some blog to chronicle their lives on the streets.

When Laura Zeilinger, deputy director of program operations for the D.C. Department of Human Services, conducted housing assessments of a couple of thousand people living on city streets last summer, she was surprised by how many gave her cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses.

"Phones are really a lifeline for many people," said Adam Rocap, director of social services at Miriam's Kitchen, a nonprofit drop-in center for the homeless. During a string of attacks against homeless people sleeping downtown in the fall, two victims called 911 for help after they were assaulted, he said.

It goes without saying that a phone is relatively very cheap compared to, you know, rent. A prepaid phone loaded with 200 minutes can cost as low as $20. And if someone on the streets wants a callback for a job, or wants to access public services, they need a point of contact.

I eagerly await Malcolm's apology.

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